Donald Trump will be president — but a President Trump may not be what voters expected
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Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE and President Obama both gave gracious speeches the day after President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE's victory. Trump likewise struck a conciliatory tone, lauding both of them for their service. Not only will he not prosecute Clinton for her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State, he'll keep in close touch with her and former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonBill Clinton distributes relief supplies in Puerto Rico In Washington and Hollywood, principle is sad matter of timing Mika Brzezinski: Bill Clinton needs to apologize or stop talking MORE and seek their advice when it's helpful.

After such an acrimonious campaign, how can this be? And what other changes can we expect from Trump in 2017?

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Anger toward elected officials tends to grow the longer they remain in office. Former President George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE both served eight years in office. That provided plenty of time for the out-of-power party to stew in disbelief over how the country could elect and reelect each of these men.

 

Conspiracy theories proliferate when people can't comprehend a significant event. Such theories allow people to dismiss groups, leaders and changes inconsistent with their views, instead of doing the uncomfortable psychological work of trying to understand them. Both the Bush and Obama presidencies had their fair share.

For instance, in the years following 9/11, plenty of democrats thought Bush had advanced knowledge of the attacks that morning and did nothing so that he could later justify the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise, many Republicans believed that Obama was not born in the United States until he released his birth certificate in 2011 — many still claim he's a Muslim.


Conspiracy theories are attempts to change external reality instead of internal reality. It's easier that way. For instance, by making Obama a foreign citizen or Muslim, he is rendered delegitimate and different, which justifies preexisting animosity. It's easier for a person to do that than take him at face value, which might force that person to change his or her opinion.

But when power changes hands, these theories tend to fade. When the out-of-power party takes over, the world as it is and the world as they would like it are consistent. The theory is no longer needed.

For Trump, there is no one left to fight. He won. The reality he woke up to that Wednesday morning in November was consistent with the one he had hoped for. He has been gracious in his victory toward the vanquished Clintons and outgoing president, calling him "a very good man."

The task for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was more difficult: to be gracious when presented with a result different than the one hoped for. Both had to override their disappointment to preserve the legitimacy of the transition process. Clinton made the argument during the campaign that Trump was unfit to be president because of poor temperament and lack of experience. She didn't change her mind the morning after the election; she suppressed her feelings and bridged the gap between reality and her hoped for reality by sheer will. And many of us have to do the same.

I was moved by both Obama and Clinton's speeches the day after their defeat — moved by their words but also by the elegant process that allows for the peaceful transition of power. Nothing is rigged; the people decide, the people vote, and the powers that be respect their choice.

Obama likened the campaign to "an intramural scrimmage," noting that all Americans are ultimately on the same team. “The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line,” he said. “We zig zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is moving forward and others think is moving back. And that's OK."

Clinton spoke to women telling them how proud she was to be their champion. And she spoke to young girls in particular — like my three young daughters — telling them "Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your dreams."

I wanted Hillary Clinton to win. She was a flawed candidate, but the better choice, in my judgment. I also wanted her to be president for my girls, so that they could grow up in a world where that was possible. I wanted to have her as an example for every time they might be told that they can't do something just because they're girls, for every time they don't feel valued, or that they can't speak out.

Instead, we have Trump and his misogyny, as well as all the things he has said that will linger in the identity of our nation's women for a long time. His comments will stick in our collective minds not only because he said them but because we elected him after he did so. That makes them sting that much more.

Yes, Donald Trump deserves credit for giving voice to working-class voters across the Midwest and swing states like North Carolina and Florida. He tapped into disillusionment. He tapped into despair. And in his own way, he tapped into hope.

It is my belief that he will do far less for the country’s deindustrialized areas, create fewer jobs and implement fewer assistance programs than Obama. But he may well do a better job of promoting the victories he does achieve, just as he did last week at Carrier in Indiana. Trump is a master of political theater, and could well get more credit for doing far less than our current president. 

His ascent to the presidency surprises in some ways but not in others. Who cares if your president says sleazy stuff if he can bring jobs back to your town? Decorum doesn't count for much when you're worried about where your next meal is coming from. If you think a bully can feed you, you might take a chance and invite him to dinner.

But the problem for the people is that he doesn't have enough to go around. He can't give every company a mini-bailout like he did with Carrier. It's likely not feasible unless the governor of the state where a factory is located is also your vice president-elect.

In addition to economic issues, this election was about slowing down the rate of change in America. After eight years of a black president, the legalization of gay marriage and the increase in demographic diversity, electing a woman to the presidency was a bridge too far.

In this sense, Trump's election is a return to the status quo. After all, most of our presidents have been rich white guys.

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Donald Trump will temper his policies. They are already disappearing from his website. No matter how he feels about ObamaCare, he's not going to leave 20 million people without health insurance. He's a complex person with serious character flaws: One of Trump's more genuine traits is his grandiose desire to take care of anyone and everyone due in part to his strong desire to be liked. He'll try and dismantle the law enough to please his base, but he’ll leave enough of it intact so that he doesn't alienate the millions of people who now rely on the health plan.

There will be no "great wall," though there may be some new border wall, fencing and increased surveillance. There will be no mass deportations (in fact, his immigration policy will look a lot like that of Obama, who deported more illegal immigrants than any other president).

Trump will forge a moderate agenda because he didn't just run against a Democrat. He ran against establishment Republicans too. And these changes won't bother most of his supporters one bit — upending the establishment is more thrilling than passing reforms. And now that their internal reality matches the real world, they can adjust their expectations. It's hard to stay angry after you win. 

Whether Trump can temper his rhetoric is another story. He can do just as much damage with divisive and alienating rhetoric as he can with actual policy. The fact that he has been elevated to the presidency has already changed the way we see ourselves as Americans. And not for the better.

Can he change? We don't know. But he has to try. And so do we.

Make the world better for me and my family, Mr. President. My girls are watching.

Now more than ever.


McGowan is a psychologist, adjunct professor of psychology and stay-at-home dad living in Wyckoff, N.J. Follow him @josephcmcgowan


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.